The United States signed an unprecedented pact with Israel that will provide the Jewish state with the largest amount of military aid ever awarded, $38 billion over 10 years, with promises of the latest in fighter jets, missile defense systems and cutting-edge technology.
The signing did not take place between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — or their defense secretaries — but occurred in a quiet ceremony on a top floor of the State Department, and neither of the men who signed the pact was a household name.
Instead, Israel’s acting national security adviser, Jacob Nagel, and State Department undersecretary of state for political affairs, Thomas Shannon, inked the deal.
The low-level optics for an aid package that both countries heralded as proof of the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel were remarkable.
Israeli and American negotiators have been wrangling for months over the deal, with public flare-ups. Earlier this year, Netanyahu warned that if he couldn’t get a good deal with Obama he was ready to wait for the next president.
The two leaders have continued to work together but appear to have a sour relationship. Israeli commentators noted that this signing of the military aid package should have been a signal moment. Instead, it seemed designed to go to the bottom of the news cycle.
“Neither Obama nor Bibi are breaking open the champagne on this one,” said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East analyst with the Wilson Center, using the common familiar name for Netanyahu. “Obama thinks he gave too much and Netanyahu thinks he didn’t get enough. And the back story was pretty tortuous, riven by bad feelings and broken crockery over Iran.”
Regardless, the new memorandum of understanding (MOU, as it is called) will provide Israel with a windfall of hardware and technology.
At the signing ceremony, national security adviser Susan Rice said the deal is proof of the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel.
“No other administration has done more for Israel’s security,” Rice said. “This is the single largest pledge of U.S. military aid to any country in U.S. history.”
For his part, Nagel said, “Everyone can see and feel the special relationship” between Israel and the United States.
Nagel confessed that the negotiations, even among such good friends, “had many ups and downs, many obstacles.”
In Israel, Netanyahu issued a statement praising the deal and saying that any disputes were part of a family feud. “They don’t influence our great friendship,” Netanyahu said. He thanked the United States for its help.
Obama described the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security as “unshakable.”
“For as long as the state of Israel has existed, the United States has been Israel’s greatest friend and partner, a fact underscored again today,” he said in a statement. “This commitment to Israel’s security has been unwavering and is based on a genuine and abiding concern for the welfare of the Israeli people and the future of the State of Israel.”
But Obama also used the occasion to press for Israel and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table in search of a resolution to their decades-old conflict. Eventually, he said, two independent states must emerge, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians.
“Ultimately, both this MOU and efforts to advance the two-state solution are motivated by the same core U.S. objective that has been shared by all administrations, Democratic and Republican, over the last several decades — ensuring that Israelis can live alongside their neighbors in peace and security,” Obama said.
The U.S. military aid package to Israel will be $3.8 billion a year over 10 years, beginning in 2019. It amounts to more than half of all direct military aid the United States provides worldwide.
The funds will be disbursed in equal amounts of $3.3 million to purchase goods and services, and $500 million a year dedicated to Israel’s missile defense systems, which protect the small nation from possible attacks by militant groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Israel will be able to use the money to purchase F-35s, the most advanced fighter jet that the Pentagon possesses. It will be the only country in the Middle East to have the jets, a situation designed to help Israel maintain what is known as its qualitative military edge. The first of 33 jets are expected to be delivered in December.
Netanyahu appears to have agreed to several major concessions. The deal says that Israel cannot directly lobby Congress for more aid, unless it is at war.
The pact also ends U.S. aid to the Israeli military for fuel purchases — a high-ticket item.
The new agreement also ends the amount of the aid that Israel can spend on purchases from its own defense industry.
In the previous 10-year aid deal, Israel could purchase up to 26 percent of its military hardware from Israeli suppliers. This was unique in U.S. military aid packages. Israel said it was important to help the Israeli defense industry grow and mature, especially in high technology. The new deal phases that out.
Booth reported from Jerusalem.